oa South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition - Weight gain, physical activity and dietary changes during the seven months of first - year university life in Malawi : original research

Volume 25, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1607-0658
  • E-ISSN: 2221-1268



The objective of the study was to assess weight gain, physical activity and dietary changes during the first year of university life in Malawi.

The setting was Bunda College of Agriculture, University of Malawi.
The subjects were first-year students (n = 47) enrolled for the 2008/2009 academic year.
A prospective cohort study was carried out, with repeated measures (November 2008 and June 2009). It included residential and nonresidential students. Data were collected using self-administered structured questionnaires. Weight, height and mid-upper-arm circumference were measured.
There was a significant difference in mean weight gain between female (7.1 ± 3.2 kg, n = 26) and male students (9.6 ± 3.5 kg, n = 21) (p-value = 0.013). Overall, within the first year of university life, the students gained 8.5 ± 3.6 kg (p-value < 0.001), and a modest but significant height of 0.2 cm (p-value = 0.04). Body mass index (kg/m2) increased from 20.7 ± 3.2 to 23.9 ± 3.2 (p-value < 0.001). At the baseline, in general, the students lived sedentary lives, with 6.6 hours spent resting, 2.1 hours engaged in light activities, and 0.9 hours engaged in heavy activities. No significant changes were observed at the end of the study. Daily consumption of wheat products, meat and meat products, sugar, milk and milk products and margarine increased, while that of other foods such as fish, and fruits and vegetables declined.
Unprecedented freshman weight gain was observed in this study. Transition to university life in Malawi might be the beginning of poor dietary and lifestyle changes. If not restrained, these could elevate the risk of lifestyle diseases in people who have attained tertiary education and who are important to national development.

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